Kensington Homes' Co-op Student Program Marks 10 Years
Winnipeg, MB – Over the past decade, Kensington Homes has demonstrated a commitment to its corporate responsibility framework goal of providing career opportunities and home building industry exposure to young talent through its co-op student program. Each year, one or two co-op students spend around five months with the company, gaining real-world experience and learning more about how the homebuilder operates.
Tony Balaz, Vice-President, Kensington and Foxridge Homes, said the program initially started because Kensington Homes was looking for new ways to attract site assistant employees. He also noted that the company employed some CETs (civil engineering technologists) from Red River College Polytechnic who worked out well, and he wanted to provide an opportunity for other students to learn about the homebuilding industry.
“We knew they needed the experience to get into our industry, so this was a way that we could get them looking our way in the future, instead of heading to commercial or road building,” he said.
Kensington Homes hires not only construction students, but also marketing students, who have been able to help Tony and his team with projects that full-time staff are often too busy to tackle, during the busy summer months. An example is the home maintenance videos for customers, which Tony said was something he had wanted to complete for years.
“We hired two marketing students one summer and tasked them with coming up with maintenance videos,” he explained. “We provided the subjects we wanted, and they wrote the scripts and produced the videos.”
The co-op program has changed a bit over the years to allow students to get a more well-rounded experience at the company – something Tony said he advocated for.
“When we were first getting CETs and construction management students, they spent most of their time on site doing labour work,” he said. “I pushed to have them in the office more, or assisting site supervisors, so they were not only doing entry-level work. Getting them more involved puts a higher value on them and allows them to see that they can contribute in more ways.”
Crystal Grela, Lead Recruitment Specialist, HR Shared Services, Qualico Corporate, said that the co-op student program is an invaluable resource from a recruitment/hiring manager perspective.
“Often, co-op students will return to their classes with new perspectives on how things are done ‘in the real world’,” she said. “Sharing their experiences with classmates and instructors helps to increase the organization’s reputation among this audience and can help generate valuable referrals.”
As well, former co-op students are often the first people the company considers when hiring for similar positions. Crystal noted that when someone’s work habits are already known and proven, it can make the hiring process easier.
Aside from creating relationships with potential future employees and getting additional help in the busy summer months, hiring co-op students can also bring in new knowledge and fresh perspectives to the company.
“They’re getting trained in some of the latest technology and programs,” Tony explained. “We’ve been a construction company for over 50 years, but we can also learn from our students. I’ve told them if they have things they want to show us and share with us, we’re all ears.”
Tony pointed to the example of a graduate student the company recently hired in drafting who had been trained in a new architecture design software called Revit. Kensington Homes isn’t using Revit right now, but it’s something the team is implementing through Project Unity. The new employee will be able to help with the implementation of Revit with the drafting team because of their prior experience.
“Having the co-op students here has improved our site supervisors’ leadership skills, as they get to work together on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “It certainly also helps the site supervisors with their workload when they can have a student working with them and can teach them certain things like framing checks, for example.”
Brennen Balaz, Site Superintendent, StreetSide Developments Winnipeg, said he learned many skills during his time as a co-op student at Kensington Homes that he uses regularly in his current position.
These include how to be safe onsite and encourage safety among others, how to communicate with homeowners and contractors, how the City of Winnipeg inspection process works, and what the many key building code items are.
“I was able to experience and be around the construction process from the beginning to end, learning about each step
along the way,” he said. “Everyone was friendly, encouraging, and helped teach me throughout my time as a student.”
Kensington Homes’ co-op student program is a successful model that other Qualico business units can draw inspiration from. The more programs and post-secondary institutions Qualico business units partner with for internships and co-ops, the more opportunities the company has overall to reach diverse candidates with in-demand skills.
When it comes to other Qualico business units that are interested in implementing or improving their own co-op student programs, Tony said his advice is simple:
“Get your name out there quickly,” he said. “And if you go to hire recent graduates, get there early. All of the students with construction management degrees land jobs very quickly when they complete the course.”
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